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Rail Baltica opts for least environmental impact with Pärnu County section

A Rail Baltica construction site.
A Rail Baltica construction site. Source: ERR

According to the Estonian Ministry of Regional Affairs and Agriculture, experts have selected the route for the southern Pärnu County section of Rail Baltica that will have the least environmental impact of all the options put forward.

"The environmental and socio-economic impact of the six potential alternative routes put forward were assessed in order to identify a new location for the Rail Baltica railway line in Pärnu County. It was found that from the perspective of both people and nature, the best route will be the blue-yellow-pink one (on the map below – ed.), which has the lowest associated impact," the ministry said.

The first step was to assess the potential impact of the six proposed sites for the Rail Baltica route on Natura sites, which are part of a pan-European network of protected conservation areas. It was found that building on any of the six locations proposed would have an adverse impact on Natura sites. 

Eleri Kautlenbach, head of planning at the Ministry of Regional Affairs and Agriculture, explained that as the requirements were to choose the option, which will have the lease impact on Natura sites, ultimately the blue-yellow-pink route (shown on the map below) was selected.

The blu-yellow-pink route, which has been selected for Rail Baltica. Source: Ministry of Regional Affairs and Agriculture

The line will run from the edge of Rabaküla through the sparsely populated area of Ilvese village. It then continues along the river Ura in the village of Kõver, in a north-east to south-westerly direction through the villages of Laiksaare and Nepste (west of the populated part). In the eastern part of Krundiküla it then connects to the previously planned part of the route.

"Unfortunately, the blue-yellow-pink alternative is not ideal either," said Kautlenbach.

"This solution will create a barrier between  different populations of wildebeest in the Natura Luitemaa bird area, which will have an impact on the coherence of the wildebeest habitats and the viability of the populations. The solution is to draw up a Natura compensation scheme in order to compensate for the adverse effects on wildlife resulting from the railway's construction. New permanent habitats will be created and suitable habitats will be restored in that area. This will be done before the construction of the railway line begins, so that the approach does not ultimately lead to a deterioration in the life of the wildlife as a result," Kautlenbach explained.

Projects causing an adverse impact on nature can only be taken forward if deemed to be of overriding public importance, or in cases of exceptional urgency.

"Rail Baltica is one of the most important infrastructure projects in Estonia, and also throughout the Baltic states. Its construction fulfils a number of long-term public interest objectives for the Estonian state," said Kautlenbach.

"The construction of the electrified Rail Baltica will bring environmental benefits, as the movement of goods and people by rail rather than road, will reduce air and noise pollution as well as carbon emissions from road transport. There are also positive impacts for human health, as there will be fewer air emissions and increased road safety and rail traffic is around 30 times safer than car traffic. It will also improve the movement of both people and goods. This will open up educational and labor markets, boost Estonia's competitiveness and economic development," said Kautlenbach, adding that these reasons highlight the public importance of going ahead with the planning for Rail Baltica.

Only the blue-yellow-pink route alternative will be taken forward.

On November 14, a meeting will be held at Surju Community Center at 5.30 p.m. to present the development of the best alternative and way forward for the project. All are welcome to attend.

The planning solution, along with the Natura and SEA report and the Natura compensation scheme, is expected to be officially published in the first quarter of 2024. At that time, all interested parties will be able to consult the planning solution and the impact assessment documentation and comment on them. Prior to that, government authorities will provide their feedback on the proposed solution.

The plan is expected to be adopted by the end of 2024.

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Editor: Michael Cole

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